Stephanotis Problems

Stephanotis floribunda, or Madagascar jasmine, is a wonderful plant with dark, glossy evergreen leaves, a woody, twining vine and, if you're lucky, bunches of white blossoms. Often referred to as the "wedding plant" or the "bridal wreath." its elegant, waxy blossoms and delicious fragrance make it ideal for florist work and wedding bouquets. A member of the Asclepiadaceae, or milkweed family, stephanotis' perfume is reminiscent of jasmine, but true jasmine belongs to the olive, or Oleaceae, family. The genus name, stephanotis, derives from Greek meaning stephonos for "crown" and otos for "ear." And, if you use your imagination, you might see this "crown of ears" in the star-shape of the flower. There are 13 species in the genus Stepanotis, but the Madagascar jasmine is the best known and most cultivated. But, despite its popularity, the cultivation of stephanotis is not without its challenges

Bloom Problems

The most common complaint about stephanotis is its sometimes reluctance to bloom. Frequent and moderate doses of fertiliser high in phosphate or other bloom-encouraging fertilisers, rotated with a balanced fertiliser throughout the growing season, should help remedy that problem.

Light, Water and Temperature Needs

Stephanotis can be finicky about overwatering and can just suddenly drop dead if the soil remains too wet. Allow a drying period between waterings. Keep the soil moist, not wet. Give the plant direct sunlight either in the morning or afternoon, with some shade during midday. Be careful not to burn the leaves. A minimum temperature of around 10 degrees C is ideal, and sudden changes in temperature can shock or kill the plant.

Resting Period

Stephanotis has a resting period during the winter months, during which growth stops. This can be alarming and mistaken for imminent death, but it is a necessary growth stage for this plant. This state of semi-dormancy will be broken at the end of February, when new growth will begin. During this time, restrict watering. Water infrequently, just enough to keep the soil slightly damp.

Susceptibility to Diseases

Mealybugs love stephanotis. Look for their little white, fuzzy bodies in the axis of the leaves. Physically removing them is the best method of control for house plant culture. Try using cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol for removal. Next to that, try an insecticidal soap as a safe method of control. Red spider mites can also feed on the plants in greenhouse environments. Insecticidal sprays are available for control of these pests. Scale are also attracted to this plant and can be controlled with insecticidal soaps or oils. There are no known foliar diseases that plague Stephanotis and root rot will develop only if the plant is kept unnecessarily wet.

Cultivation Peculiarities

Stories abound about the difficulty of growing stephanotis. However, adhere to a few specific needs of the plant, and you will be rewarded with clusters of delicate, fragrant flowers. Grown from seed, stephanotis can take several years to bloom. However, cuttings will quickly root and then flower the same year.
It is most hardy in USDA Zones 10 and above for outdoor use, where it will grow prolifically. It is easily shocked from sudden temperatures changes and outdoor cultivation should only be attempted in warm, moist climates. As a houseplant, a sunny window or sun room works best, but only if moderate nighttime temperatures can be maintained year-round.

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About the Author

Kathy Imbriani's love of gardening grew from a childhood spent on the family farm. She is the co-author of two gardening books and numerous articles on science and gardening subjects. Imbriani holds a Bachelor of Science in horticulture from North Carolina State University.